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Newsletter No.151


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                             FreePint
         "Helping 65,000 people use the Web for their work"
                     http://www.freepint.com/

ISSN 1460-7239                                8th January 2004 No.151
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           ALTERNATIVE NEWSLETTER FORMATS AVAILABLE AT:
            <http://www.freepint.com/issues/080104.htm>

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                           IN THIS ISSUE
                           -------------

                             EDITORIAL

                       MY FAVOURITE TIPPLES
                          By Stuart Cliffe

                           FREEPINT BAR
                    In Association with Factiva
                   a Dow Jones & Reuters Company

                               JOBS
                       Head of Acquisitions
                    Senior Research Specialist
         Research Analyst - Global Management Consultancy
                  Information and Library Officer
          Senior Corporate Finance Researcher (Contract)
                   
                           TIPS ARTICLE
            "Sources of Information on Human Resources"
                          By Linda Emmett

                             BOOKSHELF
           "Super Searchers On Competitive Intelligence:
       The Online And Offline Secrets Of Top CI Researchers"
                      Reviewed by Barbara Sen

                          FEATURE ARTICLE
       "Quality and Comparative International Statistics"
                        By Michelle Romero

               EVENTS, GOLD AND FORTHCOMING ARTICLES

                        CONTACT INFORMATION

             ONLINE VERSION WITH ACTIVATED HYPERLINKS
            <http://www.freepint.com/issues/080104.htm>

                      FULLY FORMATTED VERSION
            <http://www.freepint.com/issues/080104.pdf>


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         *** Factiva and IBM partner on Text Analytics ***
 
Text analytics is a powerful new tool that can help your organisation
  track its reputation. Find out more about how Factiva and IBM are
      partnering to bring this to market in Factiva's latest
                   InfoPro Alliance newsletter.

                 <http://www.factiva.com/infopro>

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                     >>>  ABOUT FREEPINT  <<<

FreePint is an online network of information searchers. Members
receive this free newsletter twice a month: it is packed with tips
on finding quality and reliable business information on the Internet.

Joining is free at <http://www.freepint.com/> and provides access to
a substantial archive of articles, reviews, jobs & events, with
answers to research questions and networking at the FreePint Bar.

Please circulate this newsletter which is best read when printed out.
To receive a fully formatted version as an attachment or a brief
notification when it's online, visit <http://www.freepint.com/member>.

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                             EDITORIAL

A very happy New Year to all our readers, authors, advertisers and all
who make the FreePint community continue to be successful. Keep
spreading the word in 2004 - and keep on sending us your articles,
tipples, bar contributions and book reviews.

Both Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf, both early 'fathers of the
Internet', have been in the news this week. Berners-Lee has received a
knighthood, and Cerf has been talking about his belief that the coming
decade will see the Net spreading even further to become the basic
communications infrastructure for almost anything. An example is the
telephone network becoming part of the Net, rather than vice versa.
The full fascinating piece can be seen at <http://digbig.com/3jqa>. I
do, however, wish that the mainstream press would talk more about the
information content of the Internet and not just the technology.

At the moment, it seems that all it takes is a Google search to
research the whole breadth of human knowledge since time began. I wish
that more people would start to use a broad range of search tools and
question everything; it's far too dangerous to rely on just one
source. It's the information profession's responsibility to build on
the public's new-found searching power by showing them that
alternatives exist.

Building up a picture from a variety of sources is exactly what you
can do by using the latest FreePint Index, which you will find in your
in-boxes this week <http://www.freepint.com/issues/03indexb.htm>. It
lists, by subject, all the articles FreePint has published in the last
six years. Why not print it out and laminate the handy quick reference
card? You could use it as a starting point in place of a search engine
search. Or give it to a friend who may not have heard of FreePint.
Articles are packed with URLs from our expert authors and it can give
you some excellent online starting points.

In this issue, we have a useful article on 'Sources of Information on
Human Resources' by Linda Emmett. Hopefully, you will have had a
seasonal break and -- as we all return to work refreshed -- it is
interesting to know that according to the UK Chartered Institute of
Personnel Development, the average number of days a year taken off
sick is 9 days!  The article includes comprehensive and reliable
sources for anyone interested in HR issues.

Michelle Romero interviews Dr Denise Lievesley, Director of the UNESCO
Institute for Statistics on "Quality and Comparative International
Statistics". The UN, OECD, IMF: just how do they come up with those
figures? Surprisingly the data from the major organisations are in
fact not always gold plated, Lievesley tells Romero. "Some people
think that if we've produced it, it must be right. I really worry
about it because it is not the case. It's a very fallible system".

Factors affecting data quality include collection inconsistencies and
even political manipulation of data. Just as with evaluating all
information, Lievesley advises comparing different sets of indices -
even those from reputable organisations.

So, it comes back to comparing, contrasting and building up your own
picture from a variety of sources. With this in mind, another of my
other hopes for 2004 is that as well as training Internet users in the
importance of technology, greater prominence is given to data quality
and evaluation techniques, online editorial judgement and information
literacy. Hopefully this will really start to be recognised and pushed
more prominently onto the political agenda.

What are FreePint's plans in 2004? Well, some of the exciting things
we finalised in the last quarter of 2003 will start to take shape.
There will be more reports for sale from top information industry
authors such as Sylvia Webb, Mary Ellen Bates and Paul Pedley. Also,
we will be piloting virtual training using teleconferencing.

This month also sees the first edition of VIP, our subscription
service for business information professionals. You can view the first
issue for free at <http://www.vivaVIP.com>. If you want to influence
the content of VIP, then visit the VIP Lounge and let Pam Foster, the
Editor, know what you want. Perhaps you are using an online product
that you would like to see reviewed and/or compared with its main
competitor? Or you would like to see their Managing Director
interviewed? Maybe there is an important Web-based product growing in
popularity that you want to see written about. Let VIP know. It is
free to visit the Lounge and give your input, and it's also free to
post up your organisation's press releases into the Wire area.

I hope you enjoy the first FreePint of 2004, and remember to tell me
what you would like to see from FreePint this year.

Annabel Colley
Editor, FreePint
<annabel.colley@freepint.com>

FreePint is a Registered Trademark of Free Pint Limited (R) 1997-2004

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   >>>  VIP -- Business Information News and Product Reviews  <<<

      Check out VIP, a new monthly publication with reviews of
    information products and business information news analysis.

             Find out more at <http://www.vivaVIP.com>

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                       MY FAVOURITE TIPPLES
                          By Stuart Cliffe

* <http://www.theregister.co.uk/> - The proud strapline 'biting the
  hand that feeds IT' is a good hint to the irreverent but highly
  informative technical items featured here and updated daily.

* <http://www.mvps.org/> - Microsoft's Most Valued Professionals.
  The place to find accurate answers to tech queries about mainstream
  products. Can be heavy going, but good for really techy things.

* <http://www.webreference.com/js/tips/> - Ol' Doc Javascript keeps
  you up to date with the latest developments in XML DHTL and other
  handy acronyms.

* <http://www.newspapersoc.org.uk/> - the gateway (it says)
  to "hundreds of UK regional and local newspaper websites and other
  related sites". Handy for those with PR and advertising inclinations.

* <http://www.treepad.com/> - the database family which from a single
  floppy can manage anything from your wine cellar to your email
  correspondence with equal ease, plus cataloguing hard drives, CDs
  and bookmarks.

Stuart Cliffe <http://www.365-alive.net/> is an insurance underwriter,
computer geek and banking expert who finds errors in bank accounts,
locates lost finances and lectures on spam, broadband internet and
website development.

Submit your top five favourite Web sites. See the guidelines at
<http://www.freepint.com/author.htm>.


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Sue Hill Recruitment would like to help make your New Year special!

Register with us, the experts in information recruitment.  Learn 
more about the diverse roles that we are recruiting in information
management and records management in the private & public sectors.
A new year - a new job.

Tel: 020 7378 7068  jobs@suehill.com   <http://www.suehill.com>

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              >>>  Network and Community Hosting  <<<

      Willco provides the technology behind networking sites
         like FreePint, ResourceShelf, VIP and many others.

      Help your online community communicate more effectively.
      Find out more about list and forum hosting from Willco:

                     <http://www.Willco.com/>

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                            FREEPINT BAR
                    In Association with Factiva
                   a Dow Jones & Reuters Company

It seems that our launch of VIP couldn't have come at a better time
<http://www.vivavip.com>. Business information questions and topics at
the Bar seem to be at an all-time high. The VIP Lounge will be the
best place for these in the future, but in the meantime can you help
with any of the following?:

Do you know anything about Elsevier's 'Scopus' and how it might
compete with ISI's Web of Science <http://www.freepint.com/go/b26704>?
What about researching companies in Kazakhstan and Russia
<http://www.freepint.com/go/b27038>? How can a Webmaster put up
a share price feed for companies on Indian stock exchanges
<http://www.freepint.com/go/b27037>? Even more specifically, do you
know of sources of company risk beta information as an alternative to
Barra Betas, but not Bloomberg Betas, Datastream and the London
Business School?

Here's one for the information professionals: can you help with the
issues surrounding archiving of CD-R media
<http://www.freepint.com/go/b27068>? I'm sure this
will increasingly be a major issue for records storage and the perfect
chance for information professionals to demonstrate their knowledge.

Finally, don't forget to check out the FreePint Index if you haven't
already. This is our quick-reference guide to all the articles we've
published in the last six years <http://www.freepint.com/issues/>.

William Hann <william.hann@freepint.com>
Managing Editor, FreePint

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The FreePint Bar is where you can get help with your tricky research
questions, for free! <http://www.freepint.com/bar>

Help with study for information-related courses is available at the
FreePint Student Bar <http://www.freepint.com/student>.

Twice-weekly email digests of the latest postings can be requested
at <http://www.freepint.com/member>.

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                       *** Keeping Legal ***
                  <http://www.KeepingLegal.com>

    Legal issues affecting information professionals including
       copyright, data protection and freedom of information.

      Monitors relevant government and industry press releases,
              consultation papers and new legislation

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                           FREEPINT JOBS
                   <http://www.freepint.com/jobs>

FreePint Jobs -- the best place for information vacancies.

*  VACANCY SEARCHING -- Free search and sign up to the Job Update.
*  VACANCY RECRUITING -- Complete the form and advertise a vacancy
   for just GBP195 <http://www.freepint.com/jobs/submit/overview.php3>.
   50% discount for registered charities. 10% discount for agencies.

This week's selected listings are below. All new jobs are posted to
the Bar and Bar Digest (circulation 12,000+) and sent to the 1000+
subscribers to the Job Update.

Here are some of the latest featured jobs:

Head of Acquisitions
  Exciting opportunity for an experienced acquisitions professional to
  oversee library processes and strategic partnerships.
  Recruiter: Information Provider
  <http://www.freepint.com/go/j2913>
  
Senior Research Specialist 
  Snr researcher with technology specialism (defence, aerospace,
  automotive...) needed, value-added work, outgoing personality.
  Recruiter: Sue Hill Recruitment
  <http://www.freepint.com/go/j2927>
  
Research Analyst - Global Management Consultancy
  Able to liaise at all levels of management, and to package and 
  present information to both internal and external clients.
  Recruiter: City Professionals
  <http://www.freepint.com/go/j2929>
  
Information and Library Officer
  A flexible and well organised individual to provide an enquiries
  and information service to a wide range of callers.
  Recruiter: Sense
  <http://www.freepint.com/go/j2930>

Senior Corporate Finance Researcher (Contract)
  Proactive experienced researcher for immediate six month maternity
  leave booking. High negotiable pro-rata salary.
  Recruiter: Glen Recruitment
  <http://www.freepint.com/go/j2931>

[The above jobs are paid listings]

       Find out more today at <http://www.freepint.com/jobs>

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                            TIPS ARTICLE
         <http://www.freepint.com/issues/080104.htm#tips>
            "Sources of Information on Human Resources"
                          By Linda Emmett

Human Resources, 'HR' or 'personnel' are terms used to encompass the
entire spectrum of managing and developing people and it is the
effective management and development of people that is important
- not what it is called.

Many of us will have responsibility at some point for managing and
developing others - either directly through line management or
supervisory responsibility, or just by being part of a team. This
article is arranged into:

* General information sources
* Journals
* International sources of HR information
* Books
* Email alerts and online resources
* Government and not-for-profit information sources.


General information sources
---------------------------

The first port of call should be the website of the Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development <http://www.cipd.co.uk>. The
CIPD is the leading professional body (118,000 members) for those
involved in the management and development of people. This excellent
website contains a wealth of material, including basic free
information <http://www.cipd.co.uk/infosource> including benchmarking
surveys <http://www.cipd.co.uk/surveys>. For example, did you know the
average number of days taken sick is 9 per employee, or that the most
popular method of advertising recruitment vacancies is still the local
paper?

* Details of courses, conferences and books to develop skills and
  competencies <http://www.cipd.co.uk/bookstore>
* Summaries of on-going research <http://www.cipd.co.uk/research>
* Details of professional qualifications and membership at both
  degree and certificate level

Another useful general source is ACAS - the Advisory, Conciliation and
Arbitration Service. They produce a wide variety of booklets and
advice leaflets on issues such as inducting new staff, employee
appraisal and discipline and grievances. They also run advisory and
small business seminars around the UK <http://www.acas.org.uk>.


Newspapers
----------

These are another good source of information, as the broadsheets often
contain a weekly business supplement. Each of you will have your own
preference, especially if you don't have access to an online
subscription service. Remember the Guardian archive is still free
<http://www.guardian.co.uk>.


Journals
--------

A huge range of journals is published in the area. The key ones being:

People Management - the journal of the CIPD. The current issue is on
the website <http://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk> - access to the
archive in the research area is member-only access and includes the
comprehensive 'how to ...' series of articles.

Personnel Today - a fortnightly news-focussed journal, with the feel
of a newspaper. It contains good overview articles and benchmarking
data <http://www.personneltoday.com>.

IDS Brief/IDS Report - both are produced by Incomes Data Services.
IDS are specialised publishers - the Brief covers employment law, the
Report covers pay and conditions. Also published are books and reports on
employment in Europe, managers' pay and pensions. Their website also
offers a very useful economic area that pulls together inflation and
pay settlement forecasts, so if you are looking for a pay rise ...
<http://www.incomesdata.co.uk>.

IRS Employment Review - now part of the LexisNexis Butterworths Tolley
family with sections on employment trends, pay and benefits,
recruitment and retention, employment law and attendance and absence.
It contains in-depth case studies and employer surveys, investigating
what is current practice within organisations
<http://www.irsonline.co.uk>. Within this family are a range of legal
journals including ECJ Employment Law Watch, Industrial Relations Law
Bulletin, Industrial Relations Law Reports, Electronic Industrial
Relations Law Reports, Discrimination Case Law Digest and Equal
Opportunities Review.

Other professional bodies and membership organisations produce a
variety of material on HR issues. But be aware that some websites have
restricted access. A good starting line-up would be:

* Business in the Community <http://www.bitc.org.uk> - corporate
  social responsibility

* CBI <http://www.cbi.org.uk> - the voice of business

* Chartered Institute of Management <http://www.managers.org.uk>
  - management focus

* Chartered Institute of Marketing <http://www.cim.co.uk> - marketing
  focus

* Engineering Employers Federation <http://www.eef.org.uk>
  - manufacturing information

* Institute of Directors <http://www.iod.com> - director focus

* TUC <http://www.tuc.org.uk> - the voice of Britain at work 

* Work Foundation <http://www.theworkfoundation.com> - think-tank
  looking to improve productivity and working life.


International sources
---------------------

Looking beyond the UK, in the US, the Society of Human Resource
Management <http://www.shrm.org>, American Society for Training and
Development <http://www.astd.org>, American Management Association 
<http://www.amanet.org>, and WorldatWork <http://www.worldatwork.org>,
all have journals and offer a range of services. Other useful
journals include: HR focus <http://www.ioma.com>; Harvard Management
Update <http://hmu.harvardbusinessonline.org>; Human Resources 
<http://www.humanresourcesmagazine.com>; Workforce
<http://www.workforce.com>.

If you have offices in -- or do business often -- with particular
countries, the following umbrella organisations will be useful as they
can give details of personnel professional body equivalents in various
countries:

* European Association for Personnel Management (EAPM)
  <http://www.eapm.org>
* European Training and Development Federation (ETDF)
  <http://www.etdf-fefd.org>
* International Federation of Training and Development
  Organisations (IFTDO) <http://www.iftdo.org>
* World Federation of Personnel Managers Associations (WFPMA)
  <http://www.wfpma.com>


Books
-----

As well as the publishers mentioned already, many of the general
publishers of management books produce HR titles. These include
Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, the Free Press, Wiley, McGraw-Hill,
Prentice-Hall and Butterworths. Kogan Page publish the excellent 'A
handbook of human resource management practice' by Michael Armstrong
that offers a good introduction into all HR practice.


Specialist publishers
---------------------

More specialist publishers include Taylor and Francis, Nicholas
Brealey, Tolleys and Croner. Croner produce the A - Z of pay and
benefits amongst other very useful loose-leaf manuals containing
examples of personnel policies.

Gower produce a range of training exercises covering all aspects of
training. Including how to open a training session ['icebreakers'],
team building exercises and large group facilitation
<http://www.gowerpub.com>.

The Reward Group, part of Croner CCH, produce a range of salary
surveys which give benchmark salaries across a range of functions.
Roles are categorised by levels of responsibility, and include
directors, managers, clerical staff, and skilled workers
<http://www.reward-group.co.uk>.

And finally, Roffey Park <http://www.roffeypark.com> - a
research-based organisation that produces the Management Agenda
(latest 2003, next will hopefully appear in January 2004).


Email alerts and online resources
---------------------------------

The most popular are from:

* TrainingZone <http://www.trainingzone.co.uk> offering topical
  briefings, community discussions and email alerts
* HRZone <http://www.hrzone.co.uk> offering news and features, email
  alerts and partner discounts
* UKHRD <http://www.ukhrd.co.uk> operated by Fenman, with a daily
  email alerting service highlighting discussions from the site
* XpertHR - <http://www.xperthr.com> a subscription service, offering
  policies and documents, and service provider information.

HR consultancies and legal firms offer more specialised services,
usually taking the form of a free email update service. Organisations
include:

* Deloitte and Touche <http://www.deloitte.co.uk>
* KPMG <http://www.kpmg.co.uk>
* McKinsey <http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com> 
* Mercer Human Resource Consultancy <http://www.mercerhr.com>
* Towers Perrin - <http://www.towers.com> strong on remuneration
* Watson Wyatt - <http://www.watsonwyatt.com>

Legal firms include Lovells, Charles Russell, whose recent client list
includes Wagamama, Hammonds, Eversheds, Dickinson Dees and Irwin
Mitchell. Firms will also offer online support - for a fee of course!
Many employment law cases are covered in the online legal services
from Lexis <http://www.lexisnexis.co.uk>, Lawtel
<http://www.lawtel.com> and Justis <http://www.justis.com>.


Government and other not-for-profit information sources
-------------------------------------------------------

Government sites are a useful source of information, especially for
basic leaflets. The Department of Trade and Industry site has leaflets
on maternity rights, unfair dismissal and the national minimum wage.

Current DTI consultations on proposed future legislation can be found
in the Employment Relations Directorate area <http://www.dti.gov.uk/er>.
These currently include fair piece-rates for output workers and the
new Employment Relations Bill.

For advice on skills, the Department of Education and Skills website
<http://www.dfes.gov.uk> contains details of programmes such as the
modern apprenticeships.

The Home Office site <http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk> contains details
of, or links to, work permits, data protection and employing
ex-offenders.

Other useful websites are:

CRE - Commission for Racial Equality - <http://www.cre.gov.uk>
DRC - Disability Rights Commission <http://www.drc.org.uk>
DWP - Department for Work and Pensions - <http://www.dwp.gov.uk>
EOC - Equal Opportunities Commission - <http://www.eoc.org.uk>
HSE - Health and Safety Executive - <http://www.hse.gov.uk>
IIP - Investors in People - <http://www.iipuk.co.uk>
ONS - Office for National Statistics - <http://www.ons.gov.uk>
Inland Revenue - <http://www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk>

I hope you have found this useful. I have tried to identify the main
areas, but am conscious there is a lot more around. If you are aware
of other, perhaps better sources, I would be happy to hear from you,
or discuss further in the FreePint Bar <http://www.freepint.com/bar/>.
Perhaps you would like to post some additional international HR
sources to the Bar too.

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Linda Emmett is the Information Manager at the CIPD. She has worked
there in several roles, initially starting off in the Library and
Information Centre. She has a Masters in Information and Knowledge
Management, and has worked previously in the civil service and the
education sector. She is particularly interested in how people
communicate at work to ensure the best practical transfer of knowledge
and information, and can be contacted by email <l.emmett@cipd.co.uk>.
She is also a professional body & group junkie - working for one, and
a member of three others, though some might not think that is a lot!

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Related FreePint links:

* 'Employment/Recruitment/HR' articles in the FreePint Portal
  <http://www.freepint.com/go/p43>
* Post a message to the author, Linda Emmett, or suggest further
  resources at the FreePint Bar <http://www.freepint.com/bar>
* Read this article online, with activated hyperlinks
  <http://www.freepint.com/issues/080104.htm#feature>
* Access the entire archive of FreePint content
  <http://www.freepint.com/portal/content/>

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      >>>  Yes, Long URLs are difficult to communicate   <<<

      They break in emails and newsletters, are tricky to say
       over the phone, and are prone to errors when re-typed.

    Use the free DigBig service to shorten URLs substantially.
           Find out more about this handy free utility:

                     <http://www.DigBig.com/>

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                         FREEPINT BOOKSHELF
                <http://www.freepint.com/bookshelf>
           "Super Searchers On Competitive Intelligence:
       The Online And Offline Secrets Of Top CI Researchers"
                      Reviewed by Barbara Sen

This book is a great addition to the Super Searchers series. The Super
Searchers books are always really practical as the contributions come
from some of the best in the business. It is enjoyable and easy to
read, with tips and techniques applicable to a host of working
situations.

This volume is particularly welcome as it covers an area which is a
little neglected by publishers and writers: the area of competitive
intelligence, or CI.

The foreword is by Jan Herring, who has forty years experience in CI.
Jan picks up on two problems; firstly, the difficulty in defining
competitive intelligence in a simple straightforward way, which leads
to difficulties in communication. Secondly, the poor use of technology
in CI. These could both be areas for future research and development
within the field of competitive intelligence which would help business
operations.

The winning "super searchers" formula is used, with each chapter
taking the form of an interview with an expert in the discipline. The
interviewees are at ease with the subjects, and pour out a wealth of
practical tips, techniques and models useful for either the novice or
the experienced practitioner. Each chapter concludes with a summary of
"Super Searcher Power Tips" - wisdom in bullet points.

The "super searchers" have a wide range of professional backgrounds.
They come from business research, industrial engineering, wireless
technology, market research, library science, pharmaceuticals,
molecular biology, military intelligence, finance and business
administration. Despite this diversity, they all share a determination
to succeed, and seem to have a hardworking attitude and enthusiasm
for what they do.

Books in this series do have a North American focus. With this volume
it is not a disadvantage. In the States, businesses are far more
CI-savvy than in the UK and some other European countries. The value
is mainly in the experiences recounted, though a useful source list is
appended in a directory, a regularly updated version being available
on the Super searchers web site at
<http://www.infotoday.com/supersearchers>.

The books in this series are inspirational, and this is no exception.
It shows just how diverse, interesting and challenging information
work can be. Information professionals are encouraged to step beyond
their traditional roles of information provision and develop their
skills and expertise to offer value added services, develop their
analytical skills, share in decision support, decision making and the
development of strategic priorities in business.

From an academic perspective this book will be a valuable addition to
a student's reading list. Theories are shown to have practical value
in practice by practitioners. This book offers an insight into the
working CI environment.

This is another practical book from CyberAge and a great read.

> - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Barbara is a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University in
competitive intelligence, business information, strategic information
management, and health information. She has a background of working
within both the public and private sector including business
libraries, the NHS, government and academic libraries. Research
interests include strategic development in information services,
research governance and health information.

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                           FEATURE ARTICLE
         <http://www.freepint.com/issues/080104.htm#feature>
       "Quality and Comparative International Statistics"
                        By Michelle Romero

How many people died as a result of the record-breaking European heat
wave last August? How much is invested in research and development in
Japan, the US, and China? What is the actual number of Africans
infected with AIDS? Chances are, the best sources for those answers
will contain data from a major international, intergovernmental agency
(IGO). Timely, reliable, and free (or low-cost), the data produced by
the United Nations (UN) and its specialized agencies, the Organization
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), and others comprise our stock-in-trade for high
quality, internationally comparable data. This also includes country-
level data that might otherwise be inaccessible or unavailable
altogether.


Just how do they come up with those figures?
--------------------------------------------

But once you've found that relevant table of country data - produced,
perhaps, by no less an august body than the UN - do you stop there,
confident it contains the "right" numbers? Maybe, in the absence of
cautionary footnotes or metadata saying otherwise. But sometimes
there's that nagging question: How did they come up with those
figures, anyway?

"Some people think that if we've produced it, it must be right. I
really worry about it because it is not the case. It's a very fallible
system," said Denise Lievesley, Director of the UNESCO Institute for
Statistics (UIS in a recent telephone interview). Based in Montreal,
the UIS is the statistical unit of UNESCO that collects and
disseminates worldwide data in the Organization's domains of
competence: education, science, culture, and communication.

Surprised to hear data from the major IGOs are not, in fact, 
gold-plated? You may or may not be, depending on your level of
expertise in international statistics. If you're not an expert, here's
a look at some of the quality issues behind our quality resources
- according to those technical background documents you don't
necessarily read on your dash to the data tables, as well as one very
helpful statistician.


What is Data Quality?
---------------------

"For an international organization, the quality of statistics
disseminated depends on two dimensions: the quality of national
statistics it receives and the quality of its internal processes for
collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of data and
metadata" (from "Quality Framework for OECD Statistics"
<http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/7/60/2754159.doc>). This document, as
well as similar documents from the statistical divisions of other
IGOs, show the organizations are continuously striving to address the
major quality issues affecting their work. These issues include:

* Relevance of data collected, in terms of user needs and organizational
  (development) goals
* Validity of indicators - they measure what they say they're measuring
* Reliability, both in terms of the quality of the national data
  provided and IGO processing and modelling
* Ability to be disaggregated, to accurately reflect a phenomenon at
  country or regional level
* Timeliness - data must be recent, produced on a regular basis, and
  punctually reported
* Interpretability, including the provision of metadata

Underlying all quality factors is the "fitness of use" principle
which, according to the OECD Framework, states "Even if data is
accurate, they cannot be said to be of good quality if they are
produced too late to be useful, or cannot be easily accessed, or
appear to conflict with other data."


Obstacles to Data Quality
-------------------------

Implementing these factors into the global statistical system
framework poses challenges both at the international and national
level. Nationally, problems include:

* The inability of some countries to provide data due to weak
  statistical capacity, or crisis such as war or natural disaster
* Poor resources available for statistics gathering, including IT
  infrastructure
* Lack of qualified statistical staff
* Inconsistent country data provided by different compiling agencies
* Lack of a "culture of openness" about data, including a potential
  reluctance to report unflattering numbers
* Potential for political manipulation of data

Some of these issues seem obvious when considering the problems of
developing nations, but political pressure is a feature of every
national landscape. Since statistics show just how investment -
appealing or development-worthy one country looks in comparison to
others - by highlighting the performance of its development programs,
identifying areas of need for foreign aid, or attracting business
investment - it's not surprising the numbers are often politically
influenced.

"Data has many different purposes. One of the purposes is
accountability; and accountability is a double-edged sword," said
Lievesley. "Countries can be very pleased or proud of the fact that
they've made achievements, but sometimes they don't want to own up to
the [lack] of achievement. We have problems in terms of getting data
of integrity from some countries, and I'm not just talking about
weaker countries. Data can be politically manipulated even from
developed countries."


International-level problems include:

* International classifications to which national organisations are
  unable to conform

* Selection of indicators without sufficient regard to measurability

* Overburdening countries with multiple and duplicate demands for data

Though IGO statisticians seek to work in a co-operative, mutually
beneficial fashion with national statistical offices, the relationship
requires a balance of goals and priorities. IGOs must respect the
individual agendas of national statistical offices in their own data
collection, perhaps providing assistance where appropriate and
feasible. In addition, IGOs must try to improve the global measures
that contribute to accurate, data-driven policy making at local,
national, and international levels.


International Comparability
---------------------------

Comparability of country data is one dimension of data quality, yet
it's a distinct concept with its own complications. In a perfect
world, national statistical offices would collect and report their
data using standard classifications and methodologies, enabling easy
comparison. Yet this is a long way off, and, for some subject
domains, an impossible or even undesirable goal.

Such a comparability problem plagues trade statistics, a domain
already well defined by international guidelines. An OECD Statistics
Brief ("Trade in Goods and Services: Statistical Trends and
Measurement Challenges" Oct 2001 No.1
<http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/55/11/2539563.pdf>) highlights the
problem of statistical mismatch between one country's exports and the
corresponding value of the destination country's imports
("Asymmetry"). Disparities in the "mirror statistics" result from
reporting countries using:

* Differently defined trade systems, which include or exclude
  different categories of goods and transactions
* Differing cargo valuation equations
* Differing attributions of re-export or re-import between countries
* Differing foreign exchange rates, etc.

Considering other factors such as e-commerce and new forms of the
delivery of goods and services, the challenges to statisticians are
only increasing, even as new tools to improve harmonization, such as
the "Manual on Statistics and International Trade in Services", are
introduced.

A comparability problem involving primary school education highlights
the difficulty of achieving comparability in domains involving the
measurement of social structures which are country-specific:

"Across different countries, primary education might be four years in
one country and nine or 10 years in another country," said Lievesley.
"...We have an international classification of education that says
that primary education is of the order of six years. ... But what do
you do if you're looking at, say, what children have learned by the
age of eight or the age of nine? In a country like China or Norway,
children start school at the age of seven. How do you compare that
with a country where children start school at the age of five? It may
be that over the whole of the education system countries achieve the
same, but they're not necessarily achieving the same at any one
stage."

Certain subject areas, such as culture, will always be difficult to
categorize, and perhaps we should not try to, according to Lievesley.
"Is a museum in the United States the same as a museum in Somalia?
Does it make sense to talk about going to a musical event if you live
in a rural part of China than if you live in Montreal? It's just
incredibly difficult to collect data across societies that are very
different from one another. And sometimes I think the expectations of
what statistics can do are unrealistic."


Use Different Indicators to Cross-Validate
------------------------------------------

What does this mean for data seekers working in the information field?

"I think it's really important to alert users to the fact that we're
aware that there are deficiencies in the data, that you don't use one
indicator at a time, but that you use different indicators to
cross-validate and triangulate data from different sources," said
Lievesley.

It's important to interpret data in the context of country-specific
circumstances, she said, noting also that national statisticians must
work to improve their documentation of government policy changes that
affect data interpretation. Users should seek out metadata, returning
to the originating agency in the many cases where it is lost in the
publication process.

Lievesley said field experts, either in a subject area or country
specialization, play a critical role in improving data quality by
providing feedback to IGOs regarding data and metadata. Such feedback
is welcome, because it is difficult to thoroughly judge the quality of
data coming from more than 200 countries and covering such a wide
range of subjects.

International data from IGOs are produced with the best available
expertise. But their quality is best defined in terms of compromise
- not total accuracy.

> - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Michelle Romero is an independent information specialist in Vancouver,
B.C. <michellearomero@hotmail.com>.

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